Written By: Mike Ulatoski

United States (3-0-0-0, 9 points) vs. Switzerland (0-2-1-1, 5 points)

NOTE: records are presented as: three-point wins (regulation win), two-point wins (OT or shootout win), one-point losses (OT or shootout loss), zero-point losses (regulation loss).

What to Watch
On the line is a berth into Friday’s semifinals. The U.S. last medaled in Olympic hockey in 2002, winning silver. Switzerland hasn’t been on the podium since 1948, when they won bronze. These teams have met in the Olympics eight previous times, resulting in seven wins for the U.S.

Having already met in the first game of the tournament last week, it will be interesting to see if either team takes a different approach in this rematch. Obviously, both squads have had the opportunity to forge better chemistry and a lot has changed since meeting just 8 days ago. In that contest, the U.S. took a 3-0 lead after two periods and coasted to a 3-1 victory. Bobby Ryan, “Real American” David Backes, and Ryan Malone scored, and the U.S. held a 24-15 advantage in shots. Goaltender Ryan Miller made 14 saves and came within 10 minutes of posting a shutout in his Olympic debut.

“This was a very good opening game for the whole team,” said U.S. coach Ron Wilson. “It was the first Olympic experience for a lot of our players and I loved our discipline. We’re learning more about each other every day and we want to get better with each game.”

Since then, the Americans have built incredible momentum heading into the single-elimination portion of the tournament. Confidence is sky-high after knocking off arch-rival Canada and getting the #1 seed for the rest of the Olympics. Their two highest scorers are defensemen, Brian Rafalski (4 goals, 1 assist, 5 points) and Ryan Suter (0-4-4).  Out of the 20 U.S. skaters, 15 of them have recorded at least one point. Miller has the third-best save percentage (.929) after the preliminary round and has played every second in net.  He may be the MVP of the tournament after his performance against Canada.

Switzerland has produced 10 regulation goals in four games. They have received workmanlike goaltending from Jonas Hiller (.896 save percentage in preliminary round), who also has played every second for his team.

Watch for the U.S. to come out aggressive, as they did against Canada, and for the defensive game to be improved.  After surrendering 45 shots against Canada, positioning and backchecking were certainly some things Ron Wilson’s club worked on over the last 3 days.  Look for the U.S. to be aggressive again but this time a little more relaxed and composed.  Also, look for the defense to control the tempo of the Swiss attack, and play their best game of the tournament.

Last game – United States defeated Canada, 5-3, on Sunday in the preliminary round. Switzerland defeated Belarus, 3-2, in a shootout on Tuesday in the qualification round.


Team Reports

United States – After defeating Switzerland in the preliminary round, Backes said, “A win’s a win, but we’ve got a lot of work to do to be where we want to be.”  There’s no better place to be now than the No. 1 seed in the tournament. But that’s not the ultimate goal of this team.  The pressure is on, and some of it is coming from within.  Despite beating Canada on its own turf Sunday, GM Brian Burke said his team was fortunate to escape with a win. Burke said the U.S. was outplayed for two periods and was bailed out by a heroic effort from Ryan Miller.

“You guys are probably going to be shocked by this, but I’m not happy with the way we’ve played to this point,” Burke said the day after the game. “If that’s how we play, we’re going to have a hard time getting to where we want to get here and medaling.”

Typical Burke. The U.S. was outshot 19-6 in first period and 14-4 in the third. Canadian goalie Martin Brodeur faced only 22 shots and the U.S. was fortunate to capitalize on his poor puckhandling, which may have made all the difference in the final outcome.

“We got out-chanced 2-1,” Burke said. “Our goaltender stole us a game. That’s what happened. People can say that Canada didn’t play well. I don’t agree with that. Except for the goaltending position, we didn’t deserve to win that game.”

Miller was spectacular, and the U.S. might not have had more chances but they were the ones that capitalized. However you look at it, this team is here to win and has done nothing but win so far.  They aren’t here just to say they played in the Olympics; they’re here to take home a medal, and they realize just beating Canada does not get you a medal. These players realize their work is not done yet.

On a side note, the U.S. was the least-penalized team in the preliminary round, as they played shorthanded for only 14 minutes (seven minor penalties) in three games.

Switzerland – Since the 3-1 loss to the U.S., the Swiss have regrouped nicely and have not been easy to play against. A 3-2 shootout loss to Canada, a 5-4 overtime win against Norway, and the 3-2 shootout victory against Belarus have taken this team on a wild roller-coaster ride. They should be ready for anything that comes their way in a rematch against the U.S.

After the back-and-forth victory against Norway, captain Mark Streit (defenseman for the Islanders) admitted his squad plays its best as underdogs. Streit will be a central figure and has to play better Wednesday if the Swiss have any chance at an upset. He has 3 assists in four games while averaging a team-high 26:26 of ice time per game. He played over 30 minutes against Belarus and might not be fully recovered in 24 hours to play a much faster U.S. side.  Goalie Jonas Hiller will have to stand on his head to give the Swiss a chance, but he is more than capable of doing so.

Puck Drop
You can argue that both teams have momentum heading into this quarterfinal match. Switzerland is bringing momentum from Tuesday’s nail-biter win against Belarus. The U.S. is coming off an emotional win – some might say its biggest and best Olympic win since 1980.

“Thank God there are some guys pulling on the rope, but we need everyone pulling on the rope,” Burke said. “… They don’t hand out any medals for finishing first in the preliminary round.”

“I would still say we would be the underdogs on our lack of experience, certainly now that the tournament takes on a whole new meaning with single elimination. We do need to get a lot better,” said Chris Drury.

Prediction
You can call the USA’s victory over Canada lucky, but thanks to their tough-love GM there is no mistaking that this team is focused on the big prize, which is only three wins away. If the U.S. plays a tighter defensive game and shows a better killer instinct, Switzerland will have little to no chance of moving on. Depth of their forwards, size, speed, goaltending … the U.S. holds every clear advantage. I see a 4-0 win for the Red, White, and Blue.

Shot Calling – goal today for Zach Parise.